It has been a phenomenally busy couple of weeks here on Sea Spirit, getting ready for our inaugural cruise from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas. Since we intend to continue south through the Caribbean from there, we wanted to be very sure that the boat was in top working condition before we left. Parts and service are likely to be either more expensive or more scarce or both, the further away from Fort Lauderdale we get. Fortunately, keeping the kids amused has not been difficult.
Actually, we've planned a number of shakedown cruises, each slightly greater in scope, to make sure we are able to test each system and then return to a place where we can get service if necessary. The first one was where I asked our training captain to take the boat out overnight, "just to see what would happen". This happened last month while we were still at home in Hawaii. She took the boat up the ICW (intra-coastal waterway -- the series of channels, rivers, and canals that traverse the entire East coast of the United States and provide a calm pathway) with a friend, and anchored out overnight. Nothing terribly anomalous showed up, but most things on the boat got tested. In particular, since we had added some new capabilities to the fuel transfer system and had had some work done on Sea Spirit's exhaust, we learned that both of those systems worked fine.
Or so we thought. The next shakedown cruise took us out onto the ocean in 7 - 9 foot seas, running the boat much harder than was possible on the ICW. I'll describe this shakedown cruise in two parts.Day 1
We went down Ft. Lauderdale's New River from Billfish Marina (which had been Sea Spirit's home since mid-August) to Port Everglades, and entered the Atlantic Ocean. We really enjoyed Billfish Marina, even though it is really a "working" marina rather than a tourist place. We particularly enjoyed all the manatees coming by our boat each morning and evening.
Thence, we made the roughly 18 mile passage to Biscayne Bay in Miami. Overall, this took us about 5 hours as we exercised various systems on the boat to make sure they were working. We also exercised ourselves to see how we handled the moderate seas without seasick prevention medicine. The seas were from the port rear quarter, 7 to 9 feet, and confused, with an 8 or 9 second period, and we and the waves were both running against a knot of northerly current outside of the Gulf Stream (which is also northerly, but much stronger). Wind was about 19 knots from the ENE.
While the boat did just fine in these moderate conditions, my wife, my daughter, and myself were definitely feeling the mal de mer.
Our captain was fine, and so was my 10 year old son, who felt no seasickness at all -- lucky him! The stabilizers worked very well to keep the boat from rocking from port to starboard, and the boat's pitch motion was very gentle, as would be expected from a heavy, full displacement hull. However, what really got to us was the heave -- the vertical up and down motion as the boat was lifted atop each wave, and then lowered into each valley between the waves. Since the waves were fairly steep, there was what felt like a momentary "weightless" feeling as the support from the current wave went away, and we dropped into the next trough. The feeling was similar to what one gets when a fast moving elevator starts its downward motion, only much stronger, more like going over the top of a roller coaster. My wife and daughter disliked the feeling, but I had a very bad reaction to it, and ended up feeling quite miserable, with a cold sweat and a lot of emotion. Speaking very personally for a moment, let me admit that all sorts of things went through my mind while feeling seasick, including whether the whole notion of boating was perhaps a major mistake. I thought about our upcoming 48 hour passages to the Caymans and San Andres Island, and found myself wondering if I was up to the challenge. I did some reading on the subject of seasickness, and discovered that heave
is actually the worst offender in terms of producing the sick feeling. Sill, until someone comes up with a boat that doesn't heave, heave is a fact of life and we'll need to cope with it.
We had plenty of Transderm patches for seasickness, but wanted to try going outside on a moderate day without taking any seasick medication. My reasoning was that the trip wasn't all that long, and we could put up with anything for a few hours. Quite frankly, I now know better. The way in which seasickness robbed my ability to function was quite startling to me, even as I intellectually knew what was happening. Also, our trip was not uneventful. In our second hourly engine room check, our training captain came back to the wheelhouse and said "We are leaking water off of the engine's raw water pump hose, and I can't tighten the hose clamp any more." Despite my seasick state, I went down (with a bucket, just in case) for a look, and saw a jet of water coming out from where the water pump hose joins the engine's heat exchanger. Fortunately, the volume of water was quite small, but it shoots a long way! The volume of water was only about as much as would come out of a waterpik toothbrush, or a hypodermic needle. Still, my brain immediately found parallels with all those old submarine movies where there's a bead of water one minute, and the entire boat floods the next. Even though the flow was small, I wondered if the hose might rupture, or come off, leaving much more water to come through.
The hose was properly attached, and the clamp was tight. Even though the main engine is a Lugger and is fully marinized, a closer inspection revealed four hose-to-pipe raw seawater connections with only one hose clamp on each end rather than the 2 hose clamps used elsewhere in the boat. I went to my spares cabinet, found a new clamp, and attached it over the hose behind the existing one. After tightening it, the problem was resolved. Good thing, because I felt even more sea sick after being in all sorts of positions in the heat of the engine room! I came upstairs again, but as you probably know, once you start to feel seasick, it is hard to stop until conditions calm down. The most interesting thing for me was to watch my own ability to make rational decisions being eroded away by the seasickness. All I wanted to do was curl into a ball and go to sleep. Truly, I was miserable. This was most definitely not
what boating was supposed to be about.
But by the time we found anchorage in the Key Biscayne area, we were off the ocean and in nice calm waters. The seasickness went away, and we prepared for dinner. The winds were pretty high though, at 20 knots gusting to over 30. We decided this would be a great time to test the anchor's ability to hold. Sea Spirit has a "Poole" style anchor coming off of her starboard bow. This anchor looks great, being an absolutely massive piece of (I think) stainless steel, weighing 130 pounds. But I had heard mixed reviews about this style of anchor when compared to more modern styles like Rocna and CQR. The bottom was mud, which doesn't hold any anchor as well as sand. We were in about 10 feet of water, and with the design of Sea Spirit's anchor, the attachment point to the boat is only about 3 feet above the water, or about 13 feet above the bottom. We put out about 65 feet of chain, making for a scope of about 5:1, and backed down with the boat in order to make sure it was properly set. With tonight's winds, it would be tested. We left the chart plotter on, and set a mark where the anchor was and where the boat ended up. Then we relaxed and had dinner (no more seasickness, yaaaay!), every once in a while checking up on the boat's position. The anchor actually held better than we expected, especially on short scope (which we did deliberately, as even more of a test). It held perfectly for about 4 hours, even though the wind was causing the boat to yaw around the anchor along an arc of about 90 degrees. This sea-sawing around was not great, and we need to find a way to eliminate it.
After 4 hours, we watched as the boat started to be pushed downwind - the anchor was dragging! After about 2 boat lengths (125 feet), the anchor reset itself. However, we knew that if we wanted to get a good night's sleep, we would need to improve the situation. We let out another 65 feet of chain, bringing our scope up to 10:1. This helped the situation in two ways. First, it allowed the anchor to sit more horizontally along the bottom, even in the strong wind, which was still gusting to 30. Secondly, we felt that it would reduce the number of degrees of arc that the boat followed from left to right and then right to left while being pushed to and fro by the wind. I had installed Garmin GMI 10 display units in each stateroom, and we figured out how to make those displays show the distance and bearing to the anchor, along with some data about wind speed and direction. Having these displays in each stateroom turns out to have been a great choice for getting a good night's sleep. Every once in a while, one of my eyes would open, glance at our distance to the anchor, depth, wind speed, and direction, and then close again, letting me go back to sleep. There was no need to get up and go to the wheelhouse.
Here's a shot of the track we traced out overnight while at anchor. You can see the early evening short scope arc closest to the anchor. The middle arc is still short scope, but the anchor has reset itself after slipping a couple of boat lengths. Finally, you can see the late night long scope arc. For those with sharp eyes, please note that the depth is below the keel, not below the surface of the water.
Although I did actually go upstairs once in the night just to be absolutely certain that things were ok, it is fair to say I had a good night's sleep. The anchor did not drag, and our confidence in it is now much higher than it used to be. We also carry a large Fortress anchor and enough chain and rope to deploy it. Using the second anchor may not have helped with our anchor drag, but it would at least have allowed us to limit the boat's movement much better than we were able to do with a single anchor. It will be interesting to see how our anchoring procedures evolve over the next few weeks in the Bahamas.Day 2
The next day, we evaluated the weather, which had worsened considerably since our trip (no big surprise there -- it had been worsening all afternoon). We decided to come back up the intracoastal waterway, which is a series of channels and canals that spans the entire East coast of the US. This water is totally protected, and was flat calm despite the strong winds. It took us about 4 hours to get back to Fort Lauderdale, where we placed the boat in her slip at Bahia Mar Marina for TrawlerFest. Our captain did her usual stellar job of impressing the crowds on the dock, backing Sea Spirit into her slip without fuss or panic, despite the still very high winds. The ICW trip involves passing under several bridges, some of which needed to be raised in order for us to pass beneath. Most of these bridges open only at set times, such as 15 and 45 minutes past the hour. But the system is well set up, so that you may have to wait for the first bridge, but once you are through that one, you then arrive at the next one at more or less the right time for an opening. I can definitely see the attraction of the ICW for people on go-fast boats that don't do well on the open ocean. Even for Sea Spirit, in conditions that were as rough as they were, the ICW provided a wonderful smooth path home.
You never really know what you're going to see in the ICW!
or even a converted aircraft!
The contrast between Monday's seasick-inducing trip in the confused seas and Tuesday's flat calm up the Intracoastal Waterway in very stark. The boat is far tougher than I am, and I had not properly prepared myself by sticking on a Transderm patch. I won't be making that mistake again. It's also fair to say that Monday's trip, even if there were no seasickness, would not have been all that pleasant, at least not for me. I don't really like being heaved around all that much, even in a relatively gentle boat like Sea Spirit. We leave for the Bahamas on February 11th, weather permitting, and will have to cross the Gulf Stream current to get there. Once in the Bahamas, there will be lots of gentle cruising, but I'm hoping our Gulf Stream crossing isn't all that rough.Sea Spirit's upgrades and resolving problems
The boat's upgrades worked very well, in general, with only a few anomalies. However, those anomalies definitely needed to be attended to before we left the US. We had one glitch show up on the watermaker, a Sea Recovery 1800 gallon per day system, and the installer came out today and upgraded its firmware. I'm sorry to say I had to insist that the problem wasn't "normal operation". The installer spoke with complete authority, and told me "oh yes, they all give that warning". He attempted to leave it at that, and also provide me with a $125 bill for the service call. After I asked him to check with the manufacturer, he said "mmm, we can adjust the parameters so that this warning doesn't happen". And, it was covered under warranty. Note to self: trust but verify.
We also had an issue where the autopilot was turning the boat 180 degrees around from the heading we had chosen. Ultimately, we found out that someone had pushed the "reverse" button on the autopilot's wireless remote, so the autopilot thought the boat was going backwards, which seems silly. I presume this function is there for people backing down on a fish. Pushing the button on the remote again resolved the problem completely. However, that "reverse" function is only available on the main console if it has been specifically enabled as a setup option. But on the remote control, it is always available. I can imagine the button on the remote getting pushed in a drawer, and the poor soul standing watch can't use the console to correct the problem. Even though I don't want that feature enabled, we did indeed enable it on the console so that if it happens by accident (using the remote), it can be quickly and easily corrected.
Also, one of the newly-installed aft-facing video cameras was "reverse image" (which we wanted), and the other wasn't. Having a reverse image camera is (I think) helpful, since it mimics looking in the rear view mirror of a car. Anyway, earlier today, the installer came and swapped the camera, so now both are reversing.
We had a few other anomalies on this trip. First, the sump that collects shower water and pumps it into the grey water tank via a bilge pump had clogged up with hair. We're going to have to start using hair catchers in the showers, I think. While it was a bit of a grotty job to remove all the hair, it didn't take long. The second anomaly wasn't really an anomaly at all, just a facet of having an upgrade done to the exhaust system. Sea Spirit Yachts suggested that we upgrade our exhaust system to be closer to the ones they are using now on later hulls. They split the cost with us, which was very welcome, and we had the work done late last year. But this trip was the first one where the engine was being worked hard. We had a burning smell coming from the exhaust, but couldn't find anything melting or burning. My heat gun reported that everything in the engine room was at a reasonable temperature. So, we called the exhaust manufacturer, who confirmed "Oh yes, you'll get that smell for the first 10 to 12 hours. Nothing to worry about." So, we stopped worrying about it. Big mistake. A closer inspection of the exhaust system showed a small pool of dried salt atop one of the generator cabinets that is underneath the place where water is injected into the exhaust. It appeared that we had a small exhaust leak at that point. The exhaust installer came out for a look, and said "Oh, I wonder why my guys installed both of those hose clamps with the screw part lined up nicely. They are supposed to be offest to avoid this kind of leak." I immediately adjusted the hose clamps so that they were offset. Next time we ran the boat, there was no salt, and no smell! Trust, but verify :(
Also, we had added an AIS system, which allows us to see other ships similarly equipped, and for them to see us. But the installer had left the GPS antenna connection off of the back of the unit, and without it, the AIS would only receive info, not transmit it. The installer had also incorrectly loaded the ship's "static data" into the AIS (things like our length and beam, so that other ships may know what to look for when they get an AIS collision-avoidance alert). I downloaded the setup program, and put those things in properly.
We had two pieces of equipment spontaneously break, and both were from high quality manufacturers. The first was our Headhunters fresh water pump (of which we have two, plumbed in parallel). It was an easy swap to get a new one in there under warranty. Unfortunately, the new one was dead on arrival! What a pain! But after swapping it out again, the new new one works fine. So we are back to having two functional pumps. The second was the audible alarm gauge on our flybridge Lugger display panel (pictured below). It started to alarm, but there was nothing wrong with the engine (and the wheelhouse copy of this gauge wasn't alarming). We moved the flybridge and wheelhouse gauges around, and the problem followed the gauge. A quick phone call to Northern Lights got the problem resolved, and a new gauge shipped overnight (at no cost to me). Now that we have the new gauge, all is fine, and the problem is resolved.
All of the other upgrades we've done to Sea Spirit worked very well. The YachtController was great, allowing the ability to control the boat's transmission, thrusters, and anchor from anywhere on the boat (or even from the dock, which might be useful when moving fenders around). The new ultrasonic speed-through-the-water sensor (Airmar CS-4500) worked well. The Airmar PB-200 weather station gave us great wind information, although I am not totally happy with the location that the sensor is mounted in (too close to the mast, which may shield it from the wind). The 5 new Garmin GMI-10's are great. Two are at the helm, allowing a dedicated readout for wind/weather and for depth/water.
Here's a shot of the two wheelhouse GMI-10's above and below the Garmin autopilot. On the chart plotter is the view from the aft-facing mast camera, along with a chart display.
The first of these two contrasting days was in no way relaxing. But it was very pleasant to spend a night at anchor in Key Biscayne, and the second trip (up the Intracoastal) was very pleasant indeed. If I can speak very personally for a moment, I would like to add this: Most of the dreams that I hold about boating involve being in some remote anchorage, enjoying the scenery, climate, and people, or perhaps enjoying a big city like New York or Hong Kong, all from the comfort of my floating vacation home. But to do those things, you have to get there first. On Monday, I discovered something about my own limitations as regards being out on a somewhat unpleasant day. My reaction: Boating on that kind of day is a chore, and chores have to be done in order to enjoy rewards afterwards. But I'm hoping for far more of the calm cruising, and not looking forward at all to more rough cruising. On our trip to Panama, we have a total of 6 "open water" overnight days (2 from Bahamas to Caymans, 2 from Caymans to San Andres, 1 from San Andres to the San Blas islands, and one long day trip from there to Panama). It is very clear to me now, at least emotionally, that I will need to prepare myself a lot more than I did for Monday's trip. I now also very much understand what a "weather window" is.
Now, my parents have come aboard for a week's cruising between Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys. Our objective, apart from enjoying ourselves, is to test out all remaining systems. Yesterday we ran the dinghy and the kayaks, cooked on the barbecue, and generally had a great time. The boat is performing extremely well. We continue to learn how best to deploy the anchor, and I'll have more to write about that soon. But it continues to hold much better than I feared it might.